Jamestown Revival: Beauty & Simplicity (Interview)

Austin, Texas based band Jamestown Revival will make their live New Zealand debut this Sunday at Auckland’s Tuning Fork as part of this year’s Americana Fest. The act consists of two men, Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance, who have known each other since growing up together in small-town Texas. Their debut album, Utah. A Collection Of Recorded Moments From The Wasatch Mountains, was released last year and set the band on the road leading them eventually to New Zealand. The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance about the musical journey Utah has put them on and how the two of them share a common set of beliefs and values that permeate their songs.

Click here to listen to the interview with Jamestown Revival:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: So, are you guys looking forward to coming down to New Zealand?

JC: We’re super excited, yeah.

MD: The music that you make revolves around location and country and all that stuff so I imagine it may have some effect on you or at least you’ll be interested in seeing what the place is like.

ZC: Yeah, we’re certainly curious. I don’t know if we always intend to be but we end up being pretty geographically…you know, we tend to draw from that…so maybe we’ll win twice. But just from a tourism standpoint I think we’re excited to just…yeah I’ve always heard beautiful things.

MD: It’s a good place to be. Are you going to be there for a few days or is it just in and out because you’re doing Australian dates around it aren’t you?

JC: Yeah, I don’t think we’re gonna have a ton of time, but I’m optimistic.

MD: Well speaking of location, I know that you guys started out in Austin then moved to LA and now you’re back in Austin again. So what’s that all about?

JC: Well, LA was never intended to be a permanent move and Austin is home. LA was very good to us, it was a very inspiring place to be but it was also nice to get home.

MD: Yeah, I’ve been to Austin a couple of times and it’s just…just going in during the Austin City Limits Festival…and it’s an amazing place.

ZC: That’s a good one, yeah.

MD: I know the album came out about a year ago and you’ve been touring pretty much constantly since then so how has that affected…being together so much on the road…the relationship between the two of you and how you relate to the songs now?

JC: It forced us to recognize when we’re getting together for business and also maintain a friendship outside of business with the express intent of just hanging out and not really discussing music per se.

ZC: Yeah, I think we just have to make a conscious effort. A lot of our time is spent music related and there’s a shared love and appreciation there but just the business part, you know, make it a point to, whatever, barbeque or camp or…we share a lot of the same friends. Our friend group’s pretty much exactly the same so getting together with those groups of people. As far as our relationship to the songs, it’s funny, traveling and playing songs a lot…we wrote a lot of those songs just the two of us and I think we’ve really adapted a band mind-set now, just playing with a band all this time so it’s changed how we approach writing music for the next record and how we’re playing a lot of those songs.

MD: You’re thinking of them in a bigger context now?

ZC: Yeah, and I think a lot of the songs on the record have grown. We don’t play them the way they’re played on the record, A, because it’s fun to change it up and keep it interesting and B, I think these songs weren’t necessarily road-tested like they are now. So I think you can’t help but sort of adapt and change things a little bit, and your mind set’s naturally gonna change in two years’ time or a year and a half’s time.

Jonathan Clay
Jonathan Clay

MD: You’re obviously thinking about the next record. It’s a big deal to go from a record where you’ve had quite a bit of time to get the first one together to the next one. How are you feeling about that? How has the time on the road affected that?

JC: Well there’s an added layer of pressure and I think it’s something you have to sort of get used to living with and it takes a little of an adjustment. You know, I think we’ve started to settle in a little bit. I feel like we’re getting back to just not thinking about it so much.

ZC: It is weird to have songs to compare them to. And, you know, it took us much further than we ever thought they would and so just by that alone it’s kinda like, “OK, well now we gotta be better”. And when we first started digging in and writing again that definitely was something that I think we had to get over.

MD: That must be difficult because you probably were figuring when you were writing the first time that you were doing the best that you possibly could anyway. How do you dig further?

JC: Exactly! How do you top it? There’s this pressure…

Zach Chance
Zach Chance

ZC: You get lucky. You just write enough songs til…yeah. That’s all it is, I think, A, for us, it’s just all about being honest. If it’s fabricated or forced it just reeks of it and turns both of us off. So, if we’re honest, I’ll live with that if it doesn’t…but I think the other thing is just getting lucky, these moments of whatever, where it just strikes you and these cool songs that kind of light you on fire come out of nowhere. So maybe it’s just…you just keep trying until the good ones come and then you hang on to them.

MD: Now, for folks who may not be that familiar with you in New Zealand, I was hoping we could just talk a little bit about when you started out together. I know you started out when you were in high school together when you were like 13 or 14. What musically brought the two of you together?

JC: Gosh, I don’t know if that was something we really thought about a lot. You know, I think it started as a friendship, which is important, and then beyond that it was just musical compatibility and sharing taste and everything else.

MD: What were you listening to?

JC: A lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival, a lot of Stones, a lot of John Prine, a lot of classic American rock. A lot of some of the songwriting greats…Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard.

MD: That doesn’t seem like what the average 15 year old would have been listening to when you were 15, which was probably 10, 15 years ago, so…

JC: Well, I gotta say, at that age we weren’t that quite mature. We were listening to some stuff that I’d rather not admit to, but if I’m talking about the things that really started to turn us on, that was it.

ZC: When we were young, one thing we were drawn to was like some r&b stuff and I think that really played a big part in what we were doing just from like a…the idea of harmonies and kind of like having a soulfulness to it, you know. And you discover the blues and it put us on a path and yeah, we went through a number of different phases, certainly.

MD: And how important was being in Texas to that process?

102539194-willie-nelson.530x298ZC: There’s a lot of really impressive musicians that have come from Texas. It’s easy growing up here. It kind of turned us off early on. You know who Willie Nelson is and all these great artists. It was almost like I didn’t wanna like them because it was kinda shoved down your throat. And of course you come around and you get involved in music and just lyrically and you start listening to these guys and its like, “I get it, I give in. It’s amazing.” And so, it was more like a rebellion thing, you know, I didn’t want to like Willie Nelson at first because everybody did.

MD: And I guess its one thing to listen to CCR or Willie Nelson or John Prine or whatever but it’s another to think you can actually make your own music. What got you from that point to the other point?

JC: I think a lot of it was, honestly, personal maturity and sort of thinking of things on a little bit deeper level. You know, I think most importantly, is having a story to tell and something to say.

ZC: Yeah, I would agree.

MD: What kind of stories do you have…well, obviously people can listen to the songs and gather them from that, but is there an over-arching theme to what you guys are trying to get across?

ZC: I think an appreciation for simplicity is a recurring theme in our music….sort of the beauty of simplicity, the wilderness, the outdoors and I think, just the struggle, whether it be physical or mental, whether it’s sleeping in truck stops playing for five people at a show or I guess perseverance in the face of adversity is definitely a theme of ours.

MD: Have you found that’s been the case, as you’ve been making records and touring around, has it been tougher than you thought, or easier than you thought it would be?

UtahZC: I think at times it’s been a lot more difficult than we thought it would be, then at times it’s been…it’s such an ebb and flow, you know, but I have to say, just having a song that people can find and sort of be the gateway drug, that has been the ultimate. I mean, it starts and ends with the music. I think you can try all these different tricks and social media and all of that, but it’s like, you gotta make something that people can relate to and if they really like that song it’s going to bring them into the album and hopefully, if the album’s good enough, the other songs are good enough, that really draws them in. I think we’ve been fortunate enough to do that on this record…for a group of people that’s allowing us to tour now and kinda have a decent fan base throughout the country and take us to other countries. That was the biggest thing, but it goes back to writing the next record, its like, “OK, we gotta find that song again, for this record”.

MD: Do you have in mind a kind of person you’re writing a song for, that you think is your audience at this point?

ZC: I don’t know if we think about audience as much as just how it feels to us, if it feels honest…very autobiographical. You know, everything we write about has an element of truth to it. So that was the biggest thing to us, when we started Jamestown Revival it was writing in that manner that felt so good and that’s where it all stems from. I don’t necessarily think about audience, or we don’t.

MD: Between the two of you, how do you work out who does what? How does the interaction work between the two of you?

JC: Gosh, I guess that depends on what moods we’re each in. Typically, we’ll get together and somebody’s got something that’s on their mind and one way or another we’ll kind of talk about it. You know, it’s kind of evident whether or not it feels like something worth writing about. When it is, it kind of starts to unfold. I hate to be ambiguous, but it really just a natural process like that. We’ll get together and all start playing some riff on guitar that just feels good and somebody will shout out one line and then it’s just off to the races…there we go.

MD: One thing I’m kind of curious about is the fact that, I believe Jonathan, you’re married, and Zach, you’re not. You’re living two, pretty much different lifestyles at that point. How does that enter into the music and the way that you conduct what you’re doing?

JC: I think it’s a benefit because if we’re both coming at things from two different perspectives, I think that only increases the depth of our well, you know, from which we can pull from.

ZC: Yeah, I think by nature, we…it’s that whole opposites attract thing. I think I tend to be a little more of a can’t sit still, free spirit, I guess and Jon is insanely smart and teaches himself all these different things and we balance each other out. What’s cool is I think more and more you’re starting to hear that in the songs. You could…one that might sound like it’s coming from Jon’s point of view and one that might be coming from mine. And then a lot of times it’s a shared experience, like a mutual frustration with something.

JC: And honestly, when it comes down to it, we very much share our values. You know, our values are very shared. We’re in line. It’s like a marriage. I always say, you know, there are a few things that you have to be in line with, with regards to your marriage, and one of the most important things is sort of your values and your morals. When you really get down to brass tacks, Zach and I see eye to eye on the important things. The day to day things, we operate differently and we get our thrills differently but, you know, we find beauty in simplicity, we find respect in integrity. We’re in line in the important things.

americanafestGIGMD: And I think, for a lot of people overseas, say, based in New Zealand, looking at the United States from a distance, a lot of what they’re seeing these days has a lot to do with the politics that are involved with the United States…the whole election that’s coming up and all of that…does that enter into what you guys do, because Austin is kind of an oasis of intelligence around what’s going on in Texas, But between the two of you, do you talk about that kind of stuff and how that may enter into your music?

ZC: Sure, you know, honestly, I think the thing that drives us the most crazy is just arrogance in politics. And when I say that, I sling that mud equally to both sides, the Republicans and Democrats alike. I think in the world you have a general distain for politicians and ???. You know, we could talk about class warfare, for me it’s more like government versus non-government. I don’t know, I think that general frustration everybody can relate to no matter what side of the fence you’re on and no matter what your set of values is. I think everybody can kind of relate to the feeling of like, they know something we don’t and the wool’s being pulled over our eyes. We definitely write to that frustration.

MD: Since you’ve been on the road so much, I wondering what…if you’ve had any kind of memorable experiences, anything that’s kind of stood out touring after the records has been made? I imagine it’s a fairly new experience for you guys. From what I understand you spent a good part of time recording and this is the first time you’ve been out doing that kind of thing. Is it what you expected it to be?

JC: That’s a hard question to answer. Is it what I expected it to be? Gosh, I don’t know if anything in life is what you completely expect it to be but I think things can be equally as good or equally as bad as you expect them to be but just different. So, to show up to a city and have 500 people come out to see us that we’ve never met before and they’re singing the words to our songs, that’s every bit as good as I hoped it would be. You know, it doesn’t feel like I thought it would feel, but it’s every bit as good as that. I’d say it’s really indescribable. You know, honestly, we’re trying really hard to just enjoy each step of this journey because it’s so easy to get ??? and if we could just focus…you know, enjoy the good nights for what they are, enjoy the bad nights for what they are and just enjoy being out there and enjoy this journey and enjoy this struggle and the grind and payin’ our dues and everything in between because in the same way as the success we’ve had thus far is not going to feel like…like it doesn’t feel like I thought it would, you know, our end goals won’t feel like I think they will either. We’ll look back and say, “Man, there was something cool about, you know, touring in the van”, the same way we look back now and say there was something fun about sleeping at truck stops.

Jamestown Revival perform at Auckland’s Tuning Fork on Sunday, October 18th. Click here to buy tickets.